I’ve been reading a lot of conflicting opinions about hustle culture.

People shaming people for the way they live their lives.

For not hustling hard enough.

For hustling too damn hard.

I’m not looking to affirm or shame the choices of other people.

I’m not the productivity police, and I don’t particularly care if you choose to work a 4-hour workweek or work over 40 hours.

I’ve had jobs where I made less than $30,000 per year working 5–6 days per week, over 40 hours each week.

On the other hand, I’ve had months as a freelancer where I’ve made close to a year’s worth of pay from my days as a dishwasher.

My first job was working at my uncle’s roadside fruit stand. I remember that summer (before seventh grade I think) — when times were slow at the fruit stand, I was able to get through my summer reading — To Kill a Mockingbird for school… and The Green Mile just for fun.

I worked at my mom’s office after that, filing paperwork in high school.

I did odd jobs for extra cash — laying sod, cutting grass, cleaning work.

In college, my first (short-lived) job was as a caterer.

After three semesters, I dropped out, I ended up washing dishes at an Aramark kitchen. There was no “daddy’s money” to fall back on.

Then it was on to delivering pizzas.

Eventually, it was waiting tables.

Then bartending.

Then managing a restaurant.

At some point, I went back to school because I wanted out. Out of the vicious cycle I found my self stuck in.

It was then I realized I had a math problem on my hands.

How to balance classes, work, homework and home life as a married adult student.

I had to sacrifice a lot of things — a social life, closeness with my family of origin, being “normal.”

I missed out on closeness with my mom during the last few years of her life.

So I made it through the weeks and months of those years one long day at a time. I went to school in the mornings and worked in the evenings, sometimes late into the night when I was bartending.

I had to learn to be more effective with my time. But that wouldn’t come until I was able to break the cycle of chaos that my work-school schedule demanded.

Once I finally finished my degree at age 30, I managed to obtain a position as a copywriter for a marketing firm in Atlanta. I had studied English, specifically rhetoric and composition. So I’d learned how to research, write well, persuade and think critically.

Getting started there, I was literally thrown for a loop — I wasn’t working and studying 70+ hours per week anymore.

And I didn’t know what to do with myself.

Then I came to a crossroads.

It came in the form of a mindset shift.

I realized that if I wanted to keep progressing, I had to rethink everything I’d learned during my life as a student and an employee.

The set of rules that apply in structures that privilege compliance became apparent to me:
“Do as I say, produce a predictable outcome, and know your place.”

That’s what I learned at the bottom of the totem pole in work and within the confines of “corporate America.” And it’s what I learned at school too. Figure out “what the professor expects.”

At this juncture, I realized the gap in my education.

I knew nothing of “business” in a meaningful sense.

I started watching the CEO of the agency. He was always handing out books, carrying them around in his messenger bag.

In our Monday daily standups, he was always presenting a concept he’d gotten from one of those books. Stuff like:

John Caples’ Tested Advertising Methods

Eli Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints

Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast & Slow

Charles Green’s The Trusted Advisor

And there were lots of others.

Then I came across The Perfect Day Formula. The author is a high-performance coach for entrepreneurs named Craig Ballantyne.

At first, I thought it was all a bit too intense, maybe even hokey.

But I decided to take the advice of the book.

I started planning my weeks out on Sunday.

I started planning my days the night before.

I got some accountability.

I learned how to use Stephen Covey’s quadrants.

I learned to focus on high-value work.

And I learned when my “magic time” was.

I decided to launch my business, Holland Creative.

One of Craig’s caveats was that he wakes up at 3:57 am.

So I figured, if it works for the “guru,” it will probably work for me too.

So now, I’m in bed early enough not to be sleep-deprived. I get up at 3:57 am every day except for Sundays. I allow myself a little more time to sleep in.

It’s not a burden. I actually love it. My creativity thrives under sets of constraints.

I’ve made huge gains in my self-discipline, not to mention exponential gains in my productivity.

Not too bad for a former dishwashing college dropout.

Originally published on Medium.
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